ABUJA - A report by the U.S-based Christian persecution monitoring group Open Doors shows the number of Christians killed in 2020 increased by 60%, mostly because of Islamic violence against Nigerian Christians.
The study says more than 2,200 of 4,761 Christians killed around the world in 2020 died in Nigeria because of radical Islamists.
Open Doors CEO David Curry says the global focus on battling the coronavirus pandemic last year also contributed to an increase in Christian persecution.
But Nigerian Muslim groups say the report is promoting a false impression.
"Nigerian Christians are not persecuted," said Ishaq Akintola, director at Muslim Rights Concern. "What is happening in Nigeria is the persecutor crying out and claiming that he is being persecuted, claiming that he is the victim. And it's because a Muslim is in power that the crying of persecution is so loud."
FILE - A bonfire and overturned vehicles block the road as police attempt to restore calm in the town of Jos, Nigeria, June 25, 2018, after deadly clashes between mostly Muslim herders and Christian farmers. (Nigeria Government via AP)
Another U.S.-based organization, International Christian Concern, estimates 50,000 to 70,000 Christians have died in violent attacks in Nigeria over 18 years, mostly carried out by Boko Haram terrorists or arms-wielding gangs.
Nigeria has been battling insurgents seeking to create an Islamic caliphate in the country's north for more than a decade. The conflict has also affected Nigeria's neighboring countries.
But Akintola says violent groups have no affiliation with Islam.
"There's nothing like that," Akintola said. "Boko Haram is not a Muslim group. This is a fake and misled group, a group that has gone out of the palms of Islam. There's nothing like a caliphate for a violent group."
Last month, the State Department designated Nigeria as a country of particular concern because of religious freedom violations based on a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. It said Nigeria's Christian communities had "weathered particularly egregious attacks."
Nigeria's information minister, Lai Mohammed, rejected the listing and called the allegations untrue.
However, Christian organizations maintain Nigerian Christians are persecuted and say the Nigerian government is not doing enough to address the issue.
"If you go back to the Chibok [mass kidnapping] case, you'll discover that the Chibok schoolgirls, many of them were Christians," said Israel Akanji, northern regional head of the Christian Association of Nigeria. "The church is being persecuted. There are so many places where Christians will not be made to head certain institutions, even when they're very qualified."
Open Doors' report said persecution would likely grow worse as the coronavirus pandemic continues.